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Notes on Elliott, Rowsey and Pirate Plunder

Tuesday night’s game was as complete a game as Marquette has played all season, maybe even in Wojo’s tenure. It wasn’t just blowing the the doors off a very good team, it was controlling every facet of the game and being able to not only withstand the Seton Hall charges, but counterpunch with twice the force. It felt like Marquette was the dominant team, and not just because it went unconscious from deep.  

That’s what the eye test told me, but what about the advanced metrics? Did the data match the feels?

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Why yes, actually. Marquette posted it’s first 99 GameScore (or GScore) of  the season, the 6th in Wojo’s tenure and only the 4th to come against high major competition. (You can click here for the exact GScore explainer, but the gist is that 100 is a perfect game that would beat 100% of D1 teams while 50 is an average game that would beat 50% of D1 teams.) Basically, it didn’t matter who Marquette was playing yesterday, it’s offensive and defensive efficiency metrics were good enough to beat just about everyone. 

Looking at the chart above, you can see Marquette hasn’t had a clunker since the Northern Illinois game and you can also see why the general consensus after the Nova game was positive. That effort was good enough to beat 92% of teams, just not Nova on the road that particular day. This consistency is something we haven’t seen from Marquette this season. Bad games will happen, it’s the nature of the sport, but I think it’s becoming clear that the early conference results are not a fluke.  

The other big stat that beffudled me and really put into perspective what a great gameplan the staff had and what toughness the tam showed was only allowing Seton Hall to rebound 23.5% of it’s misses. This was only the second time Hall was held below 30%, and way below their season average of 36.4%. 

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So not only was Marquette’s defense great (by 2018 Marquette standards), it completely wiped out Hall’s weapon to combat their erratic shooting. Again, you can tell it was the emphasis from the tip, but it took big efforts from Heldt, John and the rest of the team to make it happen. 

One note I will add in regards to Seton Hall’s performance was that this was it’s second road game in 4 days after coming back against Butler on Saturday in Indianapolis, where all of their big name players played 38+ minuets. The Pirates didn’t travel back home and the effects may have shown up midway through the 2nd half when they couldn’t contain Marquette’s guards zipping around them or put the extra effort in on the boards to clean up their misses.

THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE. Again, Marquette played extremely well and Hall cut the lead to 1 point in the second half, it wasn’t like they didn’t show up. It is just stating the reality that Marquette caught a scheduling break and made the most of it. 

Back to that 1-point lead. There were two main culprits in snapping Marquette out of it and laying the wood to the Pirates. 

The first is Andrew Rowsey. 30 point games don’t titillate the MU faithful the same way after seeing Howard drop 52, but that should not obscure the fact that 30-point scoring bursts have been rarities for most of Marquette’s history. It is a tremendous feat and should not be taken for granted. 

More important than those 30 points were the timing. Again, with Marquette up 1 and having only scored 2 points in the opening 4 minutes of the 2nd half, Rowsey picked the perfect time to go to the well and pull out #TheThing, pump faking Delgado into the air and drawing a 3-shot foul. Because of the stoppage in play due to the free throws, Wojo was able to put a press on Seton Hall, which they were grossly unprepared for. Carrington threw the ball away due to the pressure and Rowsey made a smart steal and easy deuce. 11 seconds, 5 points. 

Basketball is a game of runs where momentum plays a bigger factor than any box score or advanced metric will show. These plays by Rowsey calmed the team down and got the crowd into it. That it led to a 16-0 run isn’t directly correlated, but you can clearly say that it swung the momentum back to Marquette, which never let go. 

Ever since he was jawing with Ben Simmons in 2015 while he was on the bench with a polo, ineligible to play after transferring, Marquette fans have known Rowsey has a swagger to him unlike any other. That’s not to say it’s always a positive, but when he can harness it like he did against Seton Hall, a team he was basically toying with in the second half, it’s damn fun to watch.  

Back to that 1-point lead. Would it surprise you to hear that Greg Elliott checked in at the 16:21 mark of the 2nd half with Marquette up just 1? No. Would it surprise you to heat that Elliott finally checked out at the 2:36 mark with Marquette up 23. I’ve been focusing a lot on plus/minus stats recently, so this really jumped out at me. Elliott was on the court from Marquette’s smallest lead to its largest. Plus/minus isn’t indicative of how well an individual played, but where there’s smoke there’s fire. 

This is now 3 straight games of 25+ minutes for Elliott after hitting that mark only twice in the previous 14 games. It is undeniable that he’s playing the best defense of any guard and it’s evident to anyone with eyes that he changes the complexion of Marquette when he’s on the court. 

I tweeted this late Sunday night and I think it will continue to be proven correct as the season progresses. Howard and Rowsey can go supernova any given game, but don’t usually do it in the same game. With both players on the court, Marquette’s perimeter defense suffers tremendously as they don’t contain penetration well. More crucially, they don’t have the height or length to contest inside or out on rotations when the team is covering for the penetration. Through 16 games, it’s pretty clear that Marquette isn’t going to be a good defense. It’s not a small sample. It’s not a surprise.

But with Elliott on the court with either Howard or Rowsey, Elliott can be tasked with guarding the main source of penetration (Cartwright, Brunson, Carrington) and is already adept enough to do it well. He leads the team in block and steal rates not just because he reads the game well, though he does, but he has the athleticism and wingspan to make up for mistakes, his or his teammates. We will still see 15+ minutes of Rowsey and Howard together most games, but I doubt we see them together for much more than that going forward.

As for Elliott, his role as tenacious defender/junkyard dog is set and he has proven more than up to it. But he’s quietly putting together a very impressive, though limited, offensive game as well. He’s never going to be asked to carry a team that has Rowsey, Howard and Hauser, but as his playing time goes up, so will his offensive opportunities.

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And he seems to be answering the bell, posting ORtgs of over 100 in 5 of the last 6 games. I don’t know if it’s the added reps, a healed hand injury or just confidence from being an integral part of the rotation, but he is playing under control and contributing more and more offensively. His past two games are the two highest scoring games of his career. 

Again, with 3 elite outside shooters and 2 drive and kick guards, he will have his fair share of open 3s, just ask Sacar Anim or Jamal Cain. That he’s hit 4 of his 7 attempts in Big East play after going 1-10 in nonconference shows that he can hit them. He doesn’t have to force them, or any shots, but being able knock them down is a huge asset to an already potent offense. 

I didn’t expect this much contribution from any of the freshmen coming into the season, particularly from Elliott, and didn’t change my mind much after seeing them in limited roles prior to Big East play. But there is no denying that Elliott is now cemented into the rotation. His future is still tantalizing and a more consistent shot could make him an All-Big East type of player, but we’ll save that for another post.   

There will be tough games for him and Marquette, probably sooner than later, but watching the progression from his early outings to now, excited doesn’t begin to cover how I feel. 

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